Urban oasis provides an escape from the city
After living abroad for many years, author Bill Bryson decided to re-acquaint himself with the U.S. by hiking the Appalachian Trail. His (mis)adventures were captured in the book A Walk in the Woods. As Missoulians, we don’t quite have to make up such an extreme—albeit fun—excuse to go outdoors. In fact, our access to green spaces and the great outdoors is pretty easy. And just when you think you’ve explored every nook and cranny within and around the city, a new place to explore emerges.
Situated seven miles west of Reserve Street off Mullan Road is Council Grove State Park. It combines two of my great loves: history and the outdoors.
Council Grove is the site of the signing of the Hellgate Treaty on July 16, 1855, between the U.S. government and the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Orielle peoples. This deal created the Flathead Indian Reservation and recognized the three groups as the “Flathead Nation,” an agreement that they thought that would give them the right to self-govern in exchange for the cessation of their lands. A large sign next to the parking area has the words of the treaty and explains the history of this site and what these lands meant to these people and their future.
On my first visit, I found it the ideal place to wander, contemplate the site’s history, and revel in the surroundings. A primitive trail that starts along the shore of the Clark Fork River and eventually cuts through a grassy field on the opposite side encircles the 187-acre park. The hum of the city disappears, even though the park is less than a 10-minute drive from downtown, as the sounds of the countryside—from the pecking by a downy woodpecker against an ancient ponderosa pine to the rustle of aspen leaves in the breeze—overtake any last-gasp murmurs of the city’s proximity.
Much of your time will be spent along the riverbank. As a mecca for wildlife, tree swallows can be seen darting over the water and great blue herons can be seen picking their way along the banks in search of a meal. The sandy beach features otter and deer tracks, and the river invites you to drop in your fishing line in the fast-moving waters.
I have only visited a few times but the impression—with the ever-changing current of the river and the blooms of wild rose, chiming bells, and that yellow flower I can never remember the name of that are bathed in the sun coming through the leaves of the numerous cottonwoods—has been that no two visits are the same.